While many claim that guitars and rock music are dead, these 10 bands are fighting back and proving the naysayers wrong.
If I had a dollar for every time I hear the phrases “rock is dead” or “the guitar is dead”, I could go out and finally buy my dream guitar (a 1976 Gibson Explorer FYI). As someone who has spent most of my life trying to actively seek out new bands, new sounds, and new rock music, I never understood this claim. Sure, rock isn’t dominating the top 40 hits like it used to, but who cares? Since when have rock stars cared about popularity, in fact, most rock stars started out as the outsiders or quiet, weird kids. While many media members and twitter users were making these claims, I was attending sold out rock shows, contributing to the millions of Spotify streams these new bands accumulated, and was buying electric guitars. And I wasn’t the only one.
Despite the popular motif that rock is dead, there are plenty of awesome bands making music right now that draw their inspiration from a variety of classic rock artists. They are making guitar based music, playing guitar solos, and carrying the genre into the next decade. Let’s take a look at some of these new acts from the last 10 years or so, and briefly discuss what makes them unique.
One of many guitar based-rock bands to emerge via the American Indie scene in the last decade, Bad Flower has very quickly gained a million Spotify listeners. Their debut was only just released in 2019 after years of successful touring, promotion, and single releases. “Ok, I’m Sick” was released to both critical commercial acclaim with big, vocal hooks in songs like “Ghost” and fuzzed out, spastic soloing in “Heroin”, if the guitar riff was dead, these guys didn’t get the message. As one of the youngest tenured bands on the list, the next few years will be rife with opportunities for them to ride the rock wave being paved by Greta Van Fleet right now. Singer-guitarist Josh Katz and the rest of the band clearly are on to something mixing 70’s riffs with 90’s angst and the rock world is a better place for it.
If fuzzed out, garage rock madness is what you wish, then hit the play button on Rival Sons. One part White Stripes, another part Chris Stapleton, the band wrote their 2019 album “Feral Roots” was formed in legendary American studios RCA Studio A and Muscle Shoals. In their song “Do Your Worst”, you can hear their southern rock roots and soul roots underneath heavy layers of fuzzy guitar and drums. Around since their formation in Long Beach, California during the year 2009, the band sounds a long way from the dreamy, hazy beach sounds or DIY punk often associated with their home state. The band has claimed plenty of international success as well, with their top 5 Spotify listening countries featuring Paris, São Paulo, and Stockholm.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s earlier work could easily be confused with some historic 60’s psych-rock movement thanks to the low-fi recording and easy drifting vocals. If the differences between songs like “Fishing For Fishies” and “Work This Time” weren’t stark enough, take a listen to their most recent single “Self-Immolate” which moves from hazy, experimental rock towards darker, heavy metal spaces. Originating from Melbourne, Australia, the band has quickly made an impression on the rest of the world outside their home island with world tours and millions of streams. To further mix things up, it doesn’t hurt that most of the members are multi-instrumentalists who have worked flute, piano, and horns into their catalog. If you think modern rock is dead or dying because it has become too formulaic, you’ll have an especially good time digging through their albums.
Moving into indie rock territory, with growing influences from electronic and new wave music, Real Estate is best described as “chill” music. Songs feature dreamy soundscapes of chiming guitar with smooth lead lines playing counter melodies around lead singer Martin Courtney’s vocals. The band formed in New Jersey but has since been based in Brooklyn, New York and has slowly built up quite an online following thanks to alternative chart hits like “Darling” and “Had to Hear”. After opening for indie heavyweights like Kurt Vile, Real Estate has grown to show that there continues to be a commercial market for indie rock. Fairly dormant since 2017, 2019 and 2020 looks to be big years for the band to get back out there and build on the success of their 2017 record “In Mind”.
SWMRS has exploded from the revitalized Bay Area punk scene alongside successful California peers FIDLAR, The Regrettes, and The Wrecks. Fresh off their “International Newcomer” win at the Kerrang awards, SWMRS are building up to become the face of modern punk music, alongside FIDLAR. Unlike the hardcore punk and pop-punk that had taken over the genre in the 2000s, SWMRS are more in the vain of The Clash, The Ramones, and alternative rock heroes like Television. This re-introduction of musicality and song writing into the punk rock format should pay dividends for them as they continue to work towards their follow up to this years explosive “Berkeley’s On Fire” record.
Catfish and the Bottlemen
If good old English pub-rock is what you’re looking for, check out Catfish and the Bottlemen, who can be best described as a mix of Arctic Monkeys and Oasis rolled into one but with a Welsh accent. Having just released their third album, “The Balcony”, this year, the band continues to headline tours behind their mix of pop song structures with english rock bite. Their musicianship within the confines of these simple, short pop songs is what makes them stick out. Lead guitarist Johnny Bond mixes echoes and modulation effects over pentatonic melodies that would make The Edge proud, while frontman Van McCann bashes out distorted power chords over Benji Blakeway’s driving bass lines. Check out “Kathleen”, “Soundcheck”, and “Longshot” for prime examples of their take on anthems and sing-a-long rock.
Cage the Elephant
Likely the most successful and proven band on this list, Cage the Elephant has proven time and time again that they are the engine driving the Indie and Alternative rock boom. Hailing from the southern state of Kentucky, Cage was formed around the brothers Matt and Brad Shultz and drew on a variety of influences on their successful self-titled debut. All their following albums would be equally successful mixing punk, 90’s alternative, and blues influences in ever changing quantities. From early hits like the slide guitar based “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” to the Dan Auerbach produced “Trouble”, the band has shown consistent growth and momentum with each album. The dual guitar attack of Brad Shultz and Nick Bockrath has been a staple of their sound, felt all over their latest release, “Social Cues”.
Another punk band from the same scene as SWMRS, The Regrettes have a bit more anger and classic punk vitriol behind their 2-3 minute songs. The band cites a variety of influences ranging from Bikini Kill to Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, something you can hear in their garage-pop meets distorted guitar songs. One of the most unique things about this band is the success and touring miles they’ve accumulated all while lead singer, Lydia Night, is still a teenager. Having gained major exposure by touring with Twenty One Pilots and Sleigh Bells, the band has slowly seen major growth via streaming platforms and will likely have to continue to hone their craft on the road alongside up and coming punks like Beach Goons and Destroy Boys while playing tracks off their 2017 Feel Your Feelings Fool!” debut and new single “I Dare You”.
The Struts are a fantastic mix of classic rock influences all poured into one revivalist outfit featuring a bombastic singer, a do-it-all guitarist, and a tight rhythm section. The Struts have recently been strutting their stuff on tour with Foo Fighters, receiving a warm welcome from crowds everywhere. Vocalist Luke Spiller delivers a sensational duet with Foo’s stickman Taylor Hawkins each night when the Dave Grohl and co. usually cover “Under Pressure”. For a mix of glam rock swagger and blues-rock riffage check out their singles “Kiss This” or “Body Talks” and then try to tell me that rock is dead. These guys certainly have the stage presence to back up their new age anthems.
Greta Van Fleet
Lastly, we come to the heavily contested band Greta Van Fleet. While many famous artists and rock community members have spoken out against or for this band, they remain a vital part of the modern day rock scene. Musical skill or commercial success aside, this band is important for one very big reason: they have created an incredibly engaged and loyal fan base. GVF has created a small, mass hysteria for modern day teenagers who grew up listening to their parents’ records. Despite all the headlines that decreed rock could no longer engage and entrance the youth, Greta Van Fleet has done just that, and has set themselves up to grow into a powerhouse of the modern rock scene. Their next album will be heavily scrutinized, as many hope or expect them to move away from the constant Led Zeppelin comparisons into their own sound.